The sitter is Suzanne Leenhoff, whom Manet married in 1863, but had known since 1849, when she started to give piano lessons to the Manet family. The family cat, Zizi, was drawn many times by the artist, and also appears in watercolour sketches in his letters sent from Bellevue.
This portrait was probably painted after the Manets' return from their summer residence at Rueil, west of Paris. It is considered unfinished, and it is possible that Manet was working on it when he died in 1883.
The vibrant slashes of paint in red, blue and white across the sitter's breast are typical of the artist's sketch technique.
This painting was in the collection of Degas, who obtained it from the dealer Ambroise Vollard in exchange for a pastel.